|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 53)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
Magick is made.
Take that which is evil,
Return it to realm,
Encasing all in your fire,
So none may return.
Her body shimmered red gold and then the blue flame hit her. Her entire body glowed blue and flames erupted all around her, seemingly engulfing her.
Xaviero laughed gleefully, the sound shrill over the silent battlefield. He didn’t seem to notice the great beasts standing for a moment, uncertain there on the battlefield and then tucking their tails and wandering off. As they stepped into the forest, out of sight and mind of the mage, they dissolved into nothing.
The blue flame danced for a moment, whirling around Branislava almost playfully. Through the blue of the fire gleamed first gold and then red, followed by orange. The colors swirled around her from head to toe and then slowly faded into her body, as if she’d absorbed the flames.
Seriously, Xaviero, is your mind going? she taunted. You actually used elements to try to harm us? You must do better than that or the four of us will have to send you straight through the gates of hell to join your brother. You signed a deal with the devil in blood. I believe that paper is in your pocket, and he will hold you to it.
Xaviero cursed her in several languages. All of you are dead. Every person you care about is dead. They just don’t know it yet, he promised.
Smiling at Xaviero, seemingly unaffected by his rage or his promise, she lifted her hands and sketched symbols in the air between them. The symbols hung there, runes of flames. Xaviero tensed, trying to read her attack on him. His hands came up in answer for another round in their battle.
Zev struck him from behind. Xaviero’s eyes went wide in absolute shock. He hadn’t noticed that his hellhounds had disappeared and that he was no longer within a protective circle. It never occurred to him that Branislava was merely keeping his attention on her—that all four women were using delaying tactics, simply playing a game with him while the real attack came from elsewhere.
In Lycan form, Zev’s wolf bit through the scrawny neck and clawed down the mage’s back, ripping open flesh to pull the spinal cord free. He flung it on the fire, whipped the body around and plunged his fist deep into the mage’s chest, clawing for the heart. He tossed that on the fire as well. Shifting to his natural form, he drew his sword and severed the head, throwing that on the fire. The body followed.
That’s one way to do it, Branislava whispered into Zev’s mind.
“Feel better?” Fen asked.
“A little bit of overkill?” Dimitri suggested drolly.
“That was me keeping my cool,” Zev answered. He looked around. “There’s mop-up to be done, but I need to attend to my grandfather. He’s in bad shape.”
We’ve got this, Fen said.
Zev hurried to the spot where he’d left his grandfather, Dimitri pacing along beside him. Daciana, Makoce and Lykaon guarded him. All three looked grim as they stepped back to allow Zev to kneel beside Hemming.
Silver chains, wrapped close together, were embedded deeply into the skin. Clearly some skin had grown over the chains, making them a part of his body. Dimitri had suffered a few weeks wrapped in silver chain and he remembered every second of the merciless agony. He couldn’t imagine how long Zev’s grandfather had endured such torture.
“Get them off,” Hemming gasped in greeting. “Zev, get these chains off of me now.”
Zev took a deep breath, nearly shook his head but Dimitri’s fingers settled around his arm, preventing him from speaking. Skyler can do it. Let me call to her. She removed mine.
Call her then. Hurry.
Zev smoothed his hand through his grandfather’s hair in a rare gesture of affection. “The woman who can remove the chains is on her way. I had no idea you were still alive. I thought you long dead after one of your hunts.”
Branislava appeared at his side, Skyler, Tatijana and Ivory close behind. I brought them in case we could help with healing, she confided.
Zev was grateful she was there, grateful he had her. The moment she was close to him, he felt as if he could endure anything—even losing his grandfather for the second time.
Skyler knelt down on the other side of Hemming, running her hands over his body and the tight silver chains embedded so deep. She looked up at Dimitri with stricken eyes. He laid his hand gently on her shoulder.
Zev, if I remove the chains, he will die. He’s lived too long in them. They’re embedded in his very bones, and have become part of his system. He lives in agony, but . . . Skyler trailed off, tears in her eyes. She looked up at Dimitri again, as if somehow her lifemate could change what was. Perhaps I’m wrong. Bronnie? Tatijana? Ivory?
Branislava positioned her palms just above Hemming’s body and ran her hand from head to toe. Zev felt her instant reaction and knew without her saying so that Skyler’s evaluation had been correct.
Zev bowed his head for a moment before looking his grandfather straight in the eye. “If we remove the chains, Grandfather, you will die.”
Hemming smiled at him. For the first time his face seemed to relax beneath the terrible bands of silver. “I long for peace, Zev. For the chance to be with Catalina once again. I miss her every moment of my existence. Get the chains off of me.”
Skyler shook her head. “I don’t want to be the one. I don’t, Zev. What if you look at me as the person who killed your grandfather? I can’t do it.”
Hemming turned his head slowly to look at her. “You’re so young. I can’t remember ever being that young. The chains are . . .” He seemed to have to search for the word. “Painful.”
Zev felt his heart contract. If Hemming couldn’t remember the actual word to describe pain, he’d been in the chains too long suffering the torture of death by silver. The mage hadn’t put the hooks into his body, so that the liquid silver could eventually find his heart and kill him. Xaviero had been far too clever for that. He’d merely wrapped him in the chains, rending him helpless and in total agony.
Zev felt Branislava steel herself and knew what she was going to do. His heart nearly burst with gratitude and love for her.
“I’ll remove them,” Branislava said firmly. “Skyler can show me how.”
Skyler nodded several times. “Of course. If that’s what he really wants.”
Hemming smiled at her. “More than anything else, I desire to be free of these chains. To experience true freedom one last time. Of course, I would like to remember what it is to live without pain.”
Branislava slipped her hand into Hemming’s hand. “I’m Zev’s lifemate, Branislava. He calls me Branka.”
Hemming studied her with intelligent, all-seeing eyes. “Of course he does. He is a lucky man to have you. I expect that you will take good care of him.”
“Always,” Branislava whispered. She glanced at Skyler.
Zev could feel his lifemate choking up. He couldn’t blame her. Up close to Hemming, one could feel his power. He had resisted the mage’s demand and been tortured for far too many years. He’d held out when others would have succumbed.
“I’m going to try to loosen the chains first,” Branislava said. “The other healers will join with me so the power will be extensive, but the chains are deep in your body and this may be even more painful to you. We’ll try to keep that at a minimum as well.”
A shadow fell across them. She looked up to see Gregori and Mikhail joining Fen and Dimitri, standing like guardians. For some reason the sight of the prince coming to pay tribute to Zev’s grandfather choked her up all over again. Tears burned behind her eyes and in her throat.
Hemming stroked his rough fingers over her palm. “You are saving me. Saving my heart and soul. I will go with honor.”
She nodded at him, afraid to speak.
“If I may,” Gregori said, crouching down beside Hemming’s head. “I cannot save your life, but I can help ease the pain.”
Hemming kept his eyes on Zev’s. Zev’s nod was almost imperceptible. Gregori placed both hands on either side of Hemming’s head and looked to Branislava.
She took a deep breath.
Chains of silver bedded within,
Chains of silver under tissue and skin,
Chains of silver connected to bone,
Chains of silver now may you be undone.
Her gaze jumped to Hemming’s face. His hand closed around hers, his grip like a vise. Tiny beads of blood seeped all around the chains. There was agony on his face. She started to sit back on her heels, sickened by what she’d done. Skyler had been right to refuse his request.
“No,” Hemming said, his voice hoarse. “Don’t stop.”
“The five of us can join to ease his pain,” Gregori said. “Push your power to me.”
The four women did so without hesitation and Gregori, his hands still on either side of Hemming’s head, bowed his own head.
I call to valerian to relax and release,
White willow I send you to embrace and ease,
That which is silver, toxic to bone,
I bid you to cease as goldenseal roams,
That which is natural and of earth’s healing core,
I bid you to ease that which is tattered and torn.
The agony in Hemming’s eyes receded. He smiled at his grandson. “They are handy friends to have—and keep.”
“It is so,” Zev agreed. Take them off of him, mon chaton féroce. I can’t stand to see him like this another moment.
Branislava took another deep breath and let it out. She knew if she succeeded in removing the chains, Hemming would only have a short period of time until he died. There was no way to repair the damage to bone and flesh and organs when the silver had eaten through him and become an operating part of his body.
I am with you, Branka, Zev assured her. Soul and spirit bound together. This is our decision to free him and send him to the woman who waits for him.
Grateful for Zev’s reassurance, she squeezed Hemming’s hand to warn him before she started.
Chain of silver buried deep within,
Chain of silver wrapped like a serpent’s skin.
Chain of silver that cuts to the bone,
I seek out your making so that you will now be known.
Hemming’s hand squeezed hers so tightly she nearly gasped aloud. When she looked closely at his face, he appeared serene, still staring into his grandson’s eyes, as if he found strength there. She knew what that was like, relying on Zev. He was a rock, always steady, no matter what was happening. There was something in Zev, something so strong, so deep, that she knew she could always count on. He was unswerving in his duties, his loyalty and his calm demeanor. He had the ability to lead under any circumstances—even when his heart was breaking.
I trace your pattern and follow your path,
Removing your roots as I seal and cast.
In each valley and burn I insert a balm,
So that your poison is ceased and can do no more harm.
The chains slackened. On the silver rings she could see blood and bits of flesh and bone. Branislava closed her eyes briefly and bit back a sob. She had known, of course, but seeing the evidence made his imminent death all too real.
Zev, Fen and Dimitri carefully pulled the chains up so they could be cut from Hemming’s body, and removed completely. Zev tossed them a distance away. Branislava found it difficult to look at the man who had once been like Zev—strong and muscular and reliable. His body was ravaged by pain, lack of food and exercise. His muscles were atrophied. Every inch of his body welled up with blood. His flesh had been eaten away by the silver in the chains, leaving a raw, bloody mess.
Gregori continued to hold his head, helping to ease the man’s suffering. Branislava held his hand, but it was Zev that Hemming looked to.
“I was born Lycan and I fell in love and mated with what I believed was another Lycan—your grandmother. She believed she was Lycan as well. Her parents found her on a battlefield, after the Sange rau had destroyed most of the pack.” Hemming coughed and blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth.
Mikhail, Fen and Dimitri moved closer, almost protectively, although there was little any of them could do for the man.
“She was everything to me.” Hemming’s eyes lit up. “She was a thing of beauty on the battlefield and we were always together. Never apart. We had a beautiful daughter—Aubrey.” He looked as if he was seeing back into the past and the memories were pleasant. “Both of us we quite enamored with our little girl.”
He coughed again and more blood trickled down his chin. Zev wiped it away with his thumb. Branislava switched places with Gregori to cushion Hemming’s head in her lap so that his head was at a higher angle. She smoothed back his hair with trembling fingers.
“Your mate was from a very revered Carpathian lineage,” Mikhail said, his voice pitched low and soothing. Almost singsong. A voice that could easily usher a man gently into another realm. “She was the last remaining Dark Blood. Her parents must have been killed by the Sange rau when they tried to help defend the pack. They were traveling in that area and most likely stumbled across the battle.”
Hemming nodded. “She didn’t remember them. She was little more than an infant when her Lycan parents found her. None of us, least of all her, thought she was anything but Lycan. She began to have troubling dreams. Visions came to her of the future. Of a split between Lycan and Carpathian. She sent a message to the Carpathians of her visions, but she was murdered shortly after that and we didn’t know if it had gotten through or not. It was then that we realized she was more than Lycan—that she could have been Carpathian, and now, because of me, she was both. She had become the hated Sange rau.”
“Not the Sange rau,” Mikhail corrected in his gentle way. “She was Hän ku pesäk kaikak, which in our language, is ‘guardian of all.’ She was not rogue or vampire, Hemming, she was a great warrior.”